Lack of QBs at Media Days underscores Big Ten’s problem in 2021
Big Ten Media Days served as a bit of foreshadowing for the 2021 season. And no, I’m not talking about more World War II propaganda.
The lack of quarterbacks at Big Ten Media Days surprised me a little bit, and it speaks to where the conference is as a whole in 2021. There is a lot of uncertainty at what many consider the most important position in any sport, and that weakens the perception of the conference as a whole. And in college football, perception is almost as important as what actually happens on the field.
Penn State, Nebraska and Illinois have multi-year starters returning at QB and declined to bring them to Media Days. Iowa, Wisconsin and Purdue have returning starters at QB and declined to bring them. Deciding which players to bring to a preseason media event isn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but I guess I was hoping for a bit stronger of a presence.
The Big Ten had 4 QBs (Indiana’s Michael Penix Jr., Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan, Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa and Rutgers’ Noah Vedral), and that’s actually on par with how many QBs typically attend. Over the previous 5 years Media Days were held (there wasn’t one last year), the average number of QBs at the event is 4.2.
Of the teams that you would consider the Big Ten’s top teams this season (Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa), only Indiana had a QB there. What does that tell you? Well, for one, there could be some ups and downs at the top. In a 4-team College Football Playoff, the margin for error is slim.
Here’s my thing: Bringing the QB to Media Days gives the impression that you have a guy and that there is a clear leader here. It promotes a strong front. So the programs that have an open competition right now — like Ohio State, Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State and Northwestern — I get why they’d be hesitant. But the others? Show us your guy! Answer some tough questions!
It was great to see Tagovailoa, in particular, there. He could be a star, and even though he only has a few starts under his belt, he has earned this. Look at a guy like Morgan, who didn’t have the greatest season in 2020. But he was still there, even though his father recently passed away. That tells me that Minnesota feels great about its QB.
I would’ve loved to have seen Iowa’s Spencer Petras, Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz and Penn State’s Sean Clifford there. Clifford has been starting for 2 years, and yeah, he’s coming off a down season. But the Nittany Lions are sinking or swimming with him this year, so why not put him front and center and let him embrace the bright lights? With the way he finished in 2019, he was a dark-horse Heisman candidate for 2020. Does he not have that ability anymore?
Mertz and Petras come from great programs, and one of them will probably be playing in the Big Ten Championship Game. It would’ve been nice to get their reflections on being a first-year starter during COVID and what they picked up that they will bring into this season. They can answer those questions anytime, but Media Days is a chance to put guys in the spotlight. National reporters are there. Why not widen the reach of these guys? Mertz could wind up being in the Heisman conversation either this year or next.
Adrian Martinez was once a preseason Heisman candidate, and now he’s just kind of forgotten at an event like this — as he enters his fourth season as Nebraska’s starting QB.
Is it the end of the world that some of these returning starters weren’t there? No, of course not. And I get that sometimes, programs like to reward those other guys that don’t always get a ton of press. But it would’ve looked like Iowa had some confidence in Petras after a tough start last year. It would’ve looked like Wisconsin was just as excited about Mertz as it was at the beginning of last season when he torched Illinois for 5 TDs in a flawless debut. It would’ve looked like Penn State wasn’t dwelling on a down year from Clifford. That strengthens the position of these contenders.
The Big Ten isn’t projected to be strong in the QB department this year. I think CJ Stroud could be great, but we don’t even know if he’ll be the starter yet. Penix Jr. is awesome, but he has had a season-ending injury three years in a row.
PFF ranked all 130 projected QB starters on FBS teams, and the Big Ten had just 2 in the top 25 (No. 5 Penix and No. 20 Stroud) and 3 in the top 35 (No. 26 Mertz). The SEC and ACC, by comparison, are loaded at QB with 6 in the top 25. So yeah, this isn’t the strongest group of QBs.
Anyways, these athletes aren’t making the decision of whether they get to come to Media Days. But it would’ve been nice to see them there. I think it’s telling that they were MIA.